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Same-sex couples file federal lawsuit challenging Wis. gay marriage ban

Monday, February 3, 2014
John Hart, APPlaintiffs in a federal lawsuit challenging Wisconsin's ban on gay marriage appear during a press conference at the Madison Concourse Hotel in Madison, Wis., Monday, Feb. 03, 2014. The couples, from left, are Judi Trampf and Katy Heyning of Madison, Marie Carlson and Charvonne Kemp of Milwaukee, and Garth Wangemann and Roy Badger of Milwaukee.

John Hart, AP
Plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit challenging Wisconsin’s ban on gay marriage appear during a press conference in Madison, Wis., Monday, Feb. 3, 2014. The couples, from left, are Judi Trampf and Katy Heyning of Madison, Marie Carlson and Charvonne Kemp of Milwaukee, and Garth Wangemann and Roy Badger of Milwaukee.

Updated: 10:00 p.m. CST

MADISON, Wis. — A group of same-sex couples filed a federal lawsuit Monday challenging Wisconsin’s ban on gay marriage, arguing the prohibition is unconstitutional and denies them civil rights married couples enjoy.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on the couples’ behalf in federal court in Madison, extending the organization’s national push for gay marriage rights. Larry Dupuis, an attorney with the organization, said gay marriage is becoming more accepted, pointing to a U.S. Supreme Court in June ruled same-sex couples were entitled to federal benefits and a federal judge in December overturned a same-sex marriage ban in conservative Utah.

“Obviously, there has been momentum,” Dupuis told reporters during a news conference to announce the Wisconsin lawsuit. “The climate is changing across the country.”

John Hart, APJohn Knight, of the national American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project, speaks during press conference Monday announcing the group's filing of a federal lawsuit challenging the legality of Wisconsin's ban on gay marriage.

John Hart, AP
John Knight, of the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT Project, speaks during press conference Monday announcing the group’s filing of a federal lawsuit challenging Wisconsin’s ban on gay marriage.

The lawsuit names Gov. Scott Walker and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, both Republicans, as defendants. A Walker spokesman didn’t immediately return a message. Van Hollen said in a statement he believes the ban is legal and promised to “vigorously” defend it. He didn’t elaborate.

Wisconsin voters attached an amendment to the state constitution in 2006 banning gay marriage or anything substantially similar. Wisconsin has offered domestic registry that affords same sex couples who join it a host of legal rights since 2009, but the state Supreme Court is currently weighing whether the list violates the amendment.

The new federal lawsuit alleges the amendment violates the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection and due process clauses, saying the prohibition deprives same-sex couples of legal protections afforded married couples simply because of their sex. The domestic partner registry is “a mundane entryway to an extremely limited subset of benefits” that doesn’t afford couples the recognition of marriage, the lawsuit added.

What’s more, the lawsuit said, gay couples in Wisconsin can’t get married in another state and return to Wisconsin legally; under state law, anyone who marries in another state to circumvent Wisconsin statutes can face up to $10,000 in fines and nine months in jail.

John Knight, an ACLU attorney who specializes in gay rights litigation, said he doesn’t know of anyone who has been prosecuted under the law but he’s not aware of such a sanction anywhere else in the country.

“Wisconsin’s refusal to recognize these Plaintiffs’ committed relationships, its elimination of even the possibility of seeking redress through the state legislature, and the possibility of criminal prosecution for doing nothing more than marrying the person they love has led these Plaintiffs’ to seek relief from this Court,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit outlines the lives of three same-sex couples in Wisconsin who say the amendment denies them rights and prevents them from fully celebrating their love for one another.

Carol Schumacher, 60, and her partner, Virginia Wolf, 74, who live in Eau Claire, got married in Minnesota last year and are now worried some district attorney will come after them. Judi Trampf, 53, and Katy Heyning, 51, of Madison, claimed a hospital in New Orleans wouldn’t recognize Trampf’s power of attorney after Heyning went into a seizure during a 2002 trip to the city. Charvonne Kemp, 43, and Marie Carlson, 48, of Milwaukee, said they’re domestic partners but want to get married so other people understand what their love means.

“We intend to fight as far as we have to go until there’s a day I can walk down the aisle with my partner and my love,” Carlson told reporters at the news conference.

Knight said the ACLU has filed similar lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio and Oregon. Dupuis said during the news conference 48 lawsuits seeking gay marriage rights have been filed in about 20 states.

Fair Wisconsin, the state’s largest gay rights group, is defending the state’s domestic registry. The group’s president, Katie Belanger, issued a statement saying the organization would watch the ACLU case closely but it will take more work to create real equality for gay people.

Julaine Appling, president of Wisconsin Family Action, the group challenging the registry, said the new lawsuit simply mirrors what the ACLU has been doing in other states. She said her group likely will attempt to join the federal lawsuit and help defend the gay marriage ban.

“This organization will continue to defend, strength and promote the institution of traditional marriage with every fiber … we have,” Appling said in an interview. “If the rule of law is applied … we prevail.”

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23 more reader comments:

  1. Luis Hernandez

    Posted on Monday, February 3, 2014 at 6:31pm
  2. Hurry up, Wisconsin! The state of my birf needs to recognize!

    Posted on Monday, February 3, 2014 at 6:31pm
  3. Good I’m glad the more states that file law suits the better so we can get closer to full equality. We are getting close to half the country almost 25 states.

    Posted on Monday, February 3, 2014 at 6:33pm
  4. we need same sex marriage!

    Posted on Monday, February 3, 2014 at 6:33pm
  5. Yeah I hope my state of Wisconsin is next!!

    Posted on Monday, February 3, 2014 at 6:42pm
  6. Me, too!! It's my home state!! :D

    Replied on Monday, February 3, 2014 at 9:21pm
  7. This will send Rep. Paul Ryan over the edge…

    Posted on Monday, February 3, 2014 at 7:13pm
  8. My city!! I hope they win!!!

    Posted on Monday, February 3, 2014 at 7:16pm
  9. FANTASTIC!

    Posted on Monday, February 3, 2014 at 7:23pm
  10. We will have Equality Here like it or not!!!!

    Posted on Monday, February 3, 2014 at 7:33pm
  11. I feel like states that actually criminalize or ban same-sex marriage should either make changes or not be part of the United States.

    Posted on Monday, February 3, 2014 at 7:43pm
  12. Wisconsin is chock full of gays! Just like we are over here across the big lake from you! WE ARE ROOTING FOR ALL OF YOU! Maybe we can be next here in Michigan. :-)

    Posted on Monday, February 3, 2014 at 7:55pm
  13. Go Wisconsin!

    Posted on Monday, February 3, 2014 at 8:10pm
  14. The only one of the three states which I’ve called home that does not yet have marriage equality. Here’s hoping they make it three for three (though fifty for fifty would be better)

    Posted on Monday, February 3, 2014 at 8:17pm
  15. Go, Wisconsin!!!!

    Posted on Tuesday, February 4, 2014 at 4:09am
  16. Yaaay! Rainbows for everyone!

    Posted on Tuesday, February 4, 2014 at 4:12am
  17. Read about the ridiculous “marriage evasion” law that our state has in place. I had no clue. Makes me even more passionate about getting rid of this moronic “constitutional” law.

    Posted on Tuesday, February 4, 2014 at 4:15am
  18. Good luck Wisconsin! I’m enjoying envisioning my homophobic ex collapsing into a sobbing puddle of bigotry!

    Posted on Tuesday, February 4, 2014 at 4:24am
  19. Please it is marriage equality. Separate is NEVER equal.

    Posted on Tuesday, February 4, 2014 at 4:31am
  20. It’s going to be tough. Walker is one evil SOB, raging in his campaign to make sure something like this (plus the other insanities he promised) wouldn’t happen. However, as a proud member of the LBGT, I hope we can win over Walker and Van Hollens and make this an equality state.

    Posted on Tuesday, February 4, 2014 at 4:35am
  21. This is so AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!

    Posted on Tuesday, February 4, 2014 at 4:37am
  22. YES. FINALLY. MAYBE NOW I CAN CELEBRATE WITH MY FELLOW LGBT. I’m hoping for Trans rights, next! ^u^

    Posted on Tuesday, February 4, 2014 at 9:30am
  23. I really am hoping that this happens in Indiana eventually…If I could start it I would but I am not getting married, yet. Keyword being yet.

    Posted on Tuesday, February 4, 2014 at 10:37am